Let’s face it: not everyone is able to travel. Whether it’s money, family obligations, or circumstance, travel is out of reach for a large percentage of the world’s population. In the “quit your job to travel the world” cheerleading that happens so often on travel websites (including this one), we often forget that it’s not easy for everyone. Years on the road have shown me that for many of us, our inability to travel is part a mindset issue (since we believe travel is expensive, we don’t look for ways to make it cheaper) and part a spending issue (we spend money on things we don’t need). There are those for whom no mindset change, spending cuts, or budget tips will help them travel — those who are too sick, have parents or children to care for, face great debt, or work three jobs just to make rent. After all, 2.8 billion people — nearly 40% of the world’s population — survive on less than $2 USD a day! In my home country of the United States, 14% of the population is below the poverty line, 46 million people are on food stamps, many have to work two jobs to get by, and we have a trillion dollars in student debt dragging people down. Nothing any website can say will magically make travel a reality for those people. Those of us who do travel are a privileged few. Whether we quit our jobs to travel the world, spend two months in Europe, or take our kids on a short vacation to Disney World, we get to experience something most people of the world will never get a chance to do.
We overlook that too much. As I’ve started building FLYTE — a foundation to help high schools take economically disadvantaged students on educational trips overseas — I’ve thought a lot about privilege. I grew up in a predominately white, middle-class town with parents who paid my college tuition. I had a job after college that allowed me to live on my own, take vacations, and still save for my first trip around the world. And, because I speak English, I easily found work teaching English in Thailand, where I could save to extend my travels. That’s not to say that hard work doesn’t count, but hard work doesn’t exist in a bubble — the circumstances that create the opportunities for hard work to bear fruit are often more important. I’ve met people of all ages, incomes, abilities, and nationalities on the road. Folks like Don and Alison, who are backpacking the world at 70; Michael, who worked 60-hour weeks at a minimum-wage job; Cory, who travels the world in a wheelchair; Ishwinder, who didn’t let visa restrictions stop him; and countless others. But even they had circumstances that allowed them to travel — support from family and friends, jobs that allowed for overtime, or other skills. They weren’t barely getting by or on social assistance. They didn’t wonder if they could afford their next meal. So it’s important to remember that we are some of the lucky ones. We get to do something that others will never be able to do. We are privileged. Even if you’ve hitchhiked around the world with no money, worked overseas, cut costs to travel around the world on $10 USD a day, or travel-hacked your way to a first-class ticket, you have the opportunity to do something most people go to sleep only dreaming about. You have the freedom and choice to move about the world in a way most people don’t.